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Lithia girl makes TV debut on Vampire Diaries

Drawing from her multiple performing experiences in front of hundreds at the Patel Conservatory at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts has helped 9-year-old Ashlyn Lopez master a role that will be viewed by millions this week.

Lopez, who lives in Lithia, portrays Young Nadia Petrova on an episode of CW's The Vampire Diaries that airs Thursday locally on WTOG-Ch. 44.

Months before her callback, Lopez submitted a video audition to play a young Katherine, a role which she did not get. However, when the producers needed to cast a young Nadia, they remembered Lopez's audition and she finally got the callback.

Ashlyn entered the Georgia set on a cool December day, never having seen the show, but excited for her first television appearance. She stepped into the trailer marked "Young Nadia" and the journey began.

"We didn't even know what to do in the trailer," Ashlyn's mother, Tobi Porter, said with a laugh.

Her costume called for a nightgown, but the ground was frostbitten with a chill in the air, so Ashlyn wore rainbow mustache socks in between sets.

"Everyone got a kick out of that. The whole crew was so great," Porter said. "The director was especially nice. Ashlyn was sitting in the director's seat and I told her to get up, but he said: "No, that's fine. She can yell action.'"

The role amounted to a day of firsts for Ashlyn: the first time yelling cut and action; the first time meeting actor Nina Dobrev, who joked with Ashlyn between sets to calm her nerves; and the first time running the same scene multiple times.

"My favorite part was spending a long time on it because they had to shoot it from different angles," Ashlyn said as she moved her hands around, like a camera. "I learned that television shows, they reshoot a lot, because I used to think that they just do it like they do plays, turn one camera off and turn on another."

"You climbed into that bed many times, right?" Porter said to Ashlyn.

Though Ashlyn only worked with two of the main cast members, Dobrev and Olga Fonda, she did get the chance to watch some of the filming wearing ear buds like the seasoned actors. She also got a tour of the set, complete with a view of the Salvatore mansion.

When Ashlyn returned to school, most of her peers had never heard of the show. Its adult themes don't call for many child actors, but that just shows Ashlyn's sense of maturity.

Next for Ashlyn comes a role in the Patel's latest production, Joust! She will play Merlin.

For all of the characters she plays, Ashlyn does her research and studies constantly.

"She is ahead of her age in research and learning the character," said Joust! director Audrey Siegler.

Ashlyn, who has performed at the conservatory since the age of 4, calls this her favorite play. Going from young Nadia to Merlin reveals her versatility.

"I wanted to be Merlin because I watch The Adventures of Merlin and know lots about him," Ashlyn said with a smile while tossing her long brown hair. "I know who my character is and what he's about.

"I learned that he is sometimes, a lot of the times, grumpy."

At the dress rehearsal for Joust!, Ashlyn opened the show, hiding her adorable face under a curly, white beard and a black and metallic green robe. One of her first lines was "Enough already," and she had the grumpiness down flat.

Studying lines with her mom helps get her into character, but they have done much more than that. They helped propel her career. At the age of 3, she pretended to be Max and Ruby, characters from a Nick Jr. show.

Porter and her father, Clay Lopez, saw the potential.

"She would dress up in a dress and shorts and play both sides so we knew had to get her doing something more, so I enrolled her in the Patel programs," Tobi Porter said. "They have age appropriate programs that she can grow with."

For Ashlyn, the Patel Conservatory helps her get used to being in front of bigger audiences to prepare her for the future. It also helped when she auditioned for Matilda on Broadway in New York City, where she saw snow for the first time in Central Park. While her mother was nervous, Ashlyn said, "It's just like at the Patel, Mom."

Her younger sister, Isabel, 3, helps in a different way.

"She's a distraction, but that helps Ashlyn not get distracted on stage," Porter explained. "When she stands on stage, she becomes a different person."

When she's not performing at the Patel, auditioning for roles, practicing or shooting Disney World commercials with Minnie Mouse, Ashlyn likes to hang out with her friends.

Though she will be performing the final weekend of Joust! when The Vampire Diaries episode airs Thursday, her mom will make sure it is recorded.

"I'm going to be on stage, while I am on television?" Ashlyn said to her mom.

A new worry for this new star.

Arielle Waldman can be reached at awaldman@tampabay.com.

. IF YOU GO

Her local gig

Joust! A Mighty Medieval Musical continues its run at the Patel Conservatory's TECO Theater on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Show times are Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m. The production is performed by 40 second-, third- and fourth-graders.

Tickets: Regularly priced tickets are $10-$15 and may be purchased by calling (813) 229-7827 or 1-800-955-1045 outside Tampa Bay, in person at the Straz Center Ticket Office or online at strazcenter.org.

Lithia girl makes TV debut on Vampire Diaries 02/28/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 28, 2014 5:49pm]

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